Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

We spent a wonderful afternoon taking the auto tour of these wetlands.  Here we saw about the same variety of birds which we saw last winter in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  I would bet they are confused about the current heat wave which this area is having now- it is very unusual for this area of Utah to have triple digit temperatures during the summer!  The refuge is located where the Bear River flows into the northeast arm of Salt Lake.  The wetlands are surround by arid desert lands and are consequently a very important oasis for waterfowl and shorebirds.  Large number of avocets, one is pictured below, can be found here.
Another common bird found in this park is the curlew, pictured below.  Over 250 species of birds call this 76,000 acre refuge their home. This includes birds of prey as well as perching birds, doves and owls.
In the 1920s due to loss of marshes and huge bird die-offs from botulism, local residents and organizations urged Congress to protect this valuable resource.  In 1928 the Bear River Migratory Refuge was created by Presidential Proclamation.  From December to February this park has the lowest average bird population.  March is the first month to welcome returning birds as the cinnamon teal, cormorant, white pelican, avocet, curlew, California gull and black-neck stilt (pictured below)- and that is only to name a few of the total different species. More birds arrive during the month of April.  For some it is a brief stop before they fly on to breeding grounds further north, others hang around here for the summer.   We later learned that it is the
the nesting area of the white-faced ibis.  We watched a film at the Visitor's Center, Wings of Thunder, by National Geographic and from that film we learned it is an impressive experience to be here when flocks of birds return to the refuge.  The movie describes the sound as "the distant sound of thunder". Springtime is also a great time to view the bird's mating dances.
As we drove through the refuge we could see large salt flats, areas where the water has dried up because of current drought conditions and the need for farmers to irrigate their land during the summer months.  In those areas we saw many large dead fish.  Still, Bear River looked full and up to its banks, and we were satisfied with the variety of water and shorebirds we saw.  There were large numbers of  white pelicans, egrets, white-faced ibis, and grebes, pictured below.  Also present in large numbers were many different species of gulls.  Unfortunately the heat and presence of many different flies kept us from being able to get out of the car to take  in all the sights and sounds of the refuge, however it all was still quite enjoyable.  We would love to return to this place during the spring and fall months, if that would ever be possible.

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